Anglicans and Lutherans cite significant ecumenical progress

April 16, 2003

During a 17-day 'ecumenical journey' to Europe, a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met with Roman Catholic and Anglican leaders to assess the progress of their ecumenical relationships.

Anglicans have made more ecumenical progress with Lutherans than with any other Christian tradition, said Bishop John Baycroft, director of ecumenical relations and studies for the Anglican Communion, during the group's visit to England. Yet there is some confusion over an array of regional and international agreements, he added.

The Church of England, for example, has entered into ecumenical agreements with the Lutherans in Germany (Meissen Declaration of 1991), the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia and the Baltic region (Porvoo Declaration of 1992), and an agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France (Reuilly Declaration of 1999).

In North America Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada established full communion with the Waterloo Declaration of 2001 and the Episcopal Church and the ELCA entered a similar relationship with 'Called to Common Mission,' effective in 2001.

'No one wants to stop the progress,' Baycroft said during a discussion of the ELCA's adoption of a by-law that allows some ordinations of clergy by a pastor other than a bishop, regarded by many as a unilateral alteration of the CCM agreement. There have been four 'exceptions' so far under the bylaw provision but more than 550 ordinations that comply with the terms of the agreement that ordinations are done by bishops. The Rev. Lowell Almen, secretary of the ELCA, said that such 'anomalies' get a lot of attention and make people believe they are more common than they really are.

In a meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, the group raised the issue of participation by Lutherans in the Eucharist in Roman Catholic congregations, currently forbidden. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA suggested that Anglicans and Lutherans join together to discuss Holy Communion and ministry with the Roman Catholics in a 'trilateral' discussion. He pointed to the possibility of 'limited Eucharistic sharing' between the two churches.

'Event though there are still differences on the question of ministry, a convergence has been reached on basic principles which makes Eucharistic hospitality possible,' said a recent statement from three prestigious European ecumenical research institutes--two Protestant and one Roman Catholic.

'We have come to appreciate more deeply the fellowship existing between Lutherans and Catholics which led to the Joint Declaration [on the Doctrine of Justification] in 1999,' the pope told the delegation. 'In that document we are challenged to build on what has already been achieved, fostering more extensively at the local level a spirituality of communion marked by prayer and shared witness to the gospel.'